The kids are gone. You’re empty nesters. Time to downsize from the Audi Q7/Infiniti QX60/Cadillac Escalade to something smaller and sippier. Without college tuition weighing you down, you can also indulge some sporty fun after years of road trips with suitcases and ballplayers stuffed in the aft rows.
Yeah, time to get that sleek luxury sedan you’ve always coveted: An Audi A4. All-wheel-drive. Fun, fun, fun.
But as you stoop into the Audi driver’s seat (man, were sedans always this low?) you realize the child-rearing years have taken their toll on your 50-year-old chassis. Your lower back protests. Your knees ache. You pine for the SUV’s command seating.
And you want its five-door utility: Just throw up the hatchback and throw in your bags. Or flatten the rear seats when you run over to Home Depot to gather materials for a project. It’s been so long since you’ve been in the market for anything other than a family hauler . . . but you hear they make smaller SUVs these days. Crossovers, they call ’em. And some are pretty sporty at that.
Yeah, I know. Crossover owners are from Mars, and sedan buyers are from Venus. No one cross-shops SUVs and sedans. But maybe they should.
Take the 2017 Infiniti QX30 and Audi A4 sitting in my driveway.
I ache for BMW’s M-badge performance — I find myself daydreaming about the sinful, sinewy M2 coupe I drove this summer. But when it comes to German four-door daily drivers, the A4 is hard to beat. The M2 is Margot Robbie; the Audi A4 is the woman you marry. Four doors. All-season, all-wheel-drive, all-you-need. And you’ve admired its pleasing, coupe-like roofline and locomotive grille from afar.
Trouble is, the secret is out. All your friends drive one. Heck, A4s are as common as iPhone 6s in your neighborhood.
The Infiniti QX30 is unlike anything you’ve seen. Its sculpted shape looks like wind-cut desert sands. The thing appears to be in motion just standing there. Compared to the clean, symmetrical lines of the Audi, it’s a Henry Moore sculpture.
But what about its face? Japanese cars can look so ... weird. Lexus appears to be a giant Darth Vader mask. Recent Infinitis have looked awkward, their grille mouths pinched by too much sheet metal. But the QX30 marks a new design direction following 2015’s Q60 coupe concept with a more anthropomorphically friendly face and menacing headlights.
QX30 is a dramatic package, wrapped up nicely with a square back that makes it look less like an SUV and more like a Ford Focus RS or Golf R (which, honestly, you would be buying if you were still 30- years-old). The stylish roofline is so low it might have been squashed in a giant panini maker.
Which means less room for rear passengers than an A4 even as the driver enjoys his high saddle. Still, this $36,950 base-price crossover is worth cross-shopping to the $39,400 Audi sedan because, below the skin, they both have German accents.
That’s right, the Infiniti is a rebadged Mercedes GLA: Mercedes-sourced chassis, drive system and 208-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine with 258-pound feet of torque. Hammering the QX30 across Oakland County’s lake country, I found the Mercfiniti a fun, drivable package. Riding 1.2-inches higher than the base, FWD QX30, it’s a hot hatch on stilts.
Jeez, that’s all sedans need. Already under assault from SUVs, how are they to compete when the high-riders steal their beauty and handling tips? Audi’s answer is to stick to fundamentals — assisted by a dose of futurism.
The 2017 A4 bulks up its already capable 2.0-liter mill with a 15 percent gain in horsepower and torques. Mix 252 ponies, 272 pound-feet of torque and slippery (0.27 drag coefficient) aerodynamics and the Audi rockets to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds — a full second quicker than the Infiniti.
Leather car seats are vastly more comfortable than airline seats, so I prefer long road trips when possible. The quick way to New York’s Watkins Glen International raceway (where I was racing in mid-September) from Detroit is through Canada and the windy roads of the Empire State’s western lake country. I made it a little faster in the A4 thanks to its superb handling, easy power ... and $3,250 Virtual Cockpit navigation system.
Virtual Cockpit puts all your necessary functions in a configurable, 12.3-inch instrument display right before your eyes. No more distracted glances to your center console. The system is manipulated via a thumb-controller on the left spoke of the steering wheel that deserves the Nobel Prize for physics. Mapped by Google Earth, my route through western New York was laid out in stunning, full-color 3-D before me. I checked the navigation system against my state-of-the-art Samsung phone’s Google Maps nav.
I’ve never found an auto nav that could outperform a phone (including a recent, bizarre attempt by one manufacturer’s system to take me a half-hour off a direct interstate route through D.C.’s mean streets). So a funny thing happened on the way to The Glen: The car nav saved me. Seems my smart phone’s map — obsessed with getting me to my destination quickly — uses every road available, while the Audi nav sticks to county, state, and federal roads. So deep in the gulches of rural New York my trusty phone sent me on some insane, gravel roads where I had a blast testing the Audi’s superb AWD system.
Until I got lost.
Confused by the spaghetti tangle of country roads, Samsung sent me in circles. Focused on paved roads, the Audi system suffered no such crisis and navigated me back on course to my destination. Phew.
For now, Virtual Cockpit is duplicated by a rotary-controlled, center dash screen which unnecessarily clutters the center console compared to the QX30. But the Infiniti’s infotainment system isn’t in Audi’s league. VC is OMG.
And Virtual Cockpit’s coming to the Audi Q3 — another nimble, AWD small crossover like the QX30. So if your back prefers the Infiniti’s high seat position — and your inner geek likes Audi tech — the Q3 could be worth waiting for.
But if you gotta pull 0.90 g-loads like your speed addled scribe, the A4 is still worth the stoop.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Audi A4
Front-engine, front and and all-wheel
drive five-passenger sport sedan
2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
6-speed manual; 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic
3,626 pounds (AWD as tested)
$38,250 base ($47,900 as tested)
252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet torque
Zero-60: 5.2 seconds (Car and Driver);
top speed: 130 mph
EPA 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway
/27 mpg combined
Fits like a glove; Virtual Cockpit display without peer
Looks like a V-dub from rear; smallish back seat
Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★
2017 Infiniti QX30
Front-engine, front and and all-wheel drive
2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
7-speed, dual-clutch automatic
3,346 pounds (Premium AWD as tested)
$37,945 base ($44,245 as tested)
208 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque
Zero-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver);
top speed: 131 mph
EPA 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway
/25 mpg combined
Sculpted, unique styling; Mercfiniti has German
Uncrossover-like cramped back seat; less power
and worse gas mileage than Audi